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Short Stirling

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The Stirling was the first true four-engined bomber serving with Bomber Command. However with the introduction of the Lancaster and Halifax it was moved into other duties. Operating as a glider tug the Short Stirling proved successful in this role.

Quick Facts
Short Stirling side profile image
First flight
14th May 1939
Entered service
3rd August 1940
Total built

Front view
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Side view
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Rear view
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Competing against both Armstrong Whitworth and Supermarine to provide an aircraft that met Specification B.12/36 only Short and Supermarine would have two prototypes ordered, however an air raid destroyed Supermarine's entry meaning only the design from Short was left and 200 of these were ordered. Before production began a half scale research aircraft made of wood, known as the Short S.31, was produced to asses the design and its aerodynamics and this flew on the 19th September 1938 at Rochester and would be used until 1943 by which time it had achieved over 100 flights.

The Short Stirling's career could not have got of to a worse start when the prototype flew for the first time on the 14th May 1939 a brake problem caused its landing gear to collapse on landing writing off the aircraft. It would not be until December of that year when, using the same engine as the first prototype the 1,375-hp Bristol Hercules II, the second prototype flew and by the time the first production example took to the skies on the 7th May 1940 the engines were changed to 1,595-hp Hercules XIs and three months later on the 3rd August the Stirling began to replace the Vickers Wellingtons of No. 7 Squadron based at RAF Leeming. Production of the Stirling would then be disrupted when on the 15th August 1940, at the height of the Battle of Britain, the Shorts factory in Rochester is bombed by the Luftwaffe, meaning production of the type suffers for the next three months. So it would take another six months before the Stirlings entered operational service when on the 10th February 1941 three from No. 7 Squadron took part in an attack on oil storage tanks in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

One of the main drawbacks of the Short Stirling was its low service ceiling as a result of its thick wing, although it did also have a positive effect of giving the aircraft an impressive turn rate and radius. This meant that bombing sorties with the Handley Page Halifax and Avro Lancaster flying higher up the Stirling was more susceptible to enemy fighters and flack.

A Stirling Mk II powered by 1,600-hp Wright Cyclone R-2600 engines was to be built in Canada and despite an order for 140 of the type only three were produced as the Hercules engines currently used were considered satisfactory to requirements. So the Mk III was to be the next massed produced version and this had the 1,635-hp Hercules VI or XVI engines installed. A few other changes were made internally to the Stirling as well as the addition of a new dorsal turret.

As the newer aircraft of Bomber Command, the Halifax and Lancaster, started to enter service in larger numbers the Stirling was to be used for other tasks and so on the 8th September 1944 No. 149 Squadron used the type on its last operational sortie for Bomber Command which was a raid against targets in Le Havre, France, with the aircraft's main role after this being that of a glider tug for Transport Command.

As a result of its new duties the Stirling Mk IV would have both its dorsal and front gun turrets removed, the necessary equipment for glider towing added and a new exit at the back of the fuselage for the 20 paratroopers the aircraft could hold to jump from. When being used as a glider tug it could tow a pair of Airspeed Horsas or one General Aircraft Hamilcar glider. The Stirling was to prove very capable and took part in operations on D-Day and 'Operation Market Garden'. The Mk V would be the last production version and was an unarmed transport aircraft.

Liked by its crews and earning the nickname 'the fighter bomber' due to its manoeuvrability which helped it when attacked by enemy fighters, and it was this trait that helped a Stirling of No. 218 Squadron survive an attack from four enemy night fighters destroying three on a night raid during June 1942. The type would also be used by the Special Operations Executive supplying the resistance and at its peak thirteen squadrons were operational with Bomber Command.

When production ended in late 1944 2,383 Short Stirlings had been made completing 18,440 sorties and a dozen Stirlings saw service after the Second World War (1939 - 1945) as civil aircraft in Belgium.

Technical Details

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Top Speed Range Service Ceiling Armament
Stirling Mk I 255 mph 2,330 miles 16,500 ft eight 0.303-in machine-guns
14,000lb bombs
Stirling Mk I side profile image
Stirling Mk II Three prototypes powered by 1,600-hp Wright Cyclone R-2600 engines.
Stirling Mk III

270 mph

2,010 miles

17,000 ft

eight 0.303-in machine-guns
14,000lb bombs
Stirling Mk IV Transport aircraft.
Stirling Mk V Transport aircraft.


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See This Aircraft

(C) = Cockpit only exhibit. (F) = Fuselage only exhibit. (R) = Remains of an aircraft.

No known examples currently on public display in the UK.

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